The campaign to cap the numbers of Pharmacy students

The PDA provides advice for members on the actions they can take following a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that there is to be no cap on the number of pharmacy students.

Tue 6th January 2015 The PDA

Members will know that back in 2012, the PDA instigated a series of conferences around the UK to focus on the problems looming on the horizon regarding the over production of pharmacy students.

These events enabled the PDA to develop a policy which involved a two track approach to the problem of oversupply of pharmacists:

  • Controlling the numbers of undergraduates so as to reduce the over-supply on the one hand
  • Developing new roles for pharmacists so as to increase the demand for pharmacists on the other

To see the more detailed outcome of these events and the published PDA balancing supply and demand policy click here.

Consequently, the PDA has been very active developing its Road Map policies for England and Scotland which involves individual pharmacists being able to contract directly with the NHS for the provision of new services directly to patients.

Ultimately, the discussions around controlling the student numbers led to the research which was undertaken by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence which showed what everyone already knew, that a crisis in terms of pharmacy student numbers was looming which needed to be urgently addressed. Eventually, with the backing of a coalition of pharmacy bodies, a consultation was undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) and a recommendation was put to the then University Minister to introduce a cap on pharmacy student numbers. The previous Universities Minister appeared sympathetic to these concerns and it was assumed that the requested changes would take place.

However, a new Universities Minister was appointed and much to the surprise of everyone, he concluded that despite all these recommendations, no cap on pharmacy student numbers should be applied.

A new campaign to try and cap the numbers of pharmacy students being produced has been instigated and has been continuing ever since the decision of the new Universities Minister not to do so was made in the Autumn.

In the last two months several PDA officials have been to see key members of parliament and we are also aware that many individual members have also been actively engaged in lobbying.

In November, a question was put to the Universities Minister on the floor of the House of Commons and just before Christmas he provided his response, which is as follows;

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (216260):


To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, for what reasons the cap on the number of dental and medical students has not been extended to cover pharmacy students. (216260)

Tabled on: 27 November 2014


Greg Clark:

Pharmacy students are funded in the same way as chemistry, biology and other science subjects which will not be subject to a student number control at HEFCE funded institutions in 2015/16. Medicine and dentistry attract a much larger amount of Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) grant funding than science subjects like pharmacy. Therefore it would not be appropriate to cap pharmacy student numbers.



It is obvious that more pressure is needed to try and bring a remedy to this situation. We would encourage all PDA members to see what they can do individually to further add to the pressure that is already being applied to the Universities Minister by lobbying their own local Members of Parliament. There are many arguments that members may wish to bring to their local MPs attention. We believe that MPs are currently in a very receptive mode as 2015 sees most of them involved in defending their seats at the next General Election. To assist members in this effort, we have provided some of the arguments that members may choose to use when discussing this matter with their local MP’s.

  1. Whilst the Universities Minister is broadly correct when he identifies that Medicine and Dentistry attract a much higher HEFCE grant than Pharmacy. He appears not to have taken into account the fact the Pre-registration year for pharmacists attracts a significant amount of additional government funding (approximately £20,000 per pre-reg) albeit this comes from the Department of Health.
  2. Pharmacy is a healthcare discipline, which like Medicine and Dentistry relies partly upon a science platform. These days, many pharmacy courses are being provided to undergraduates as part of a broader health faculty. Such health faculties are increasingly seeing pharmacy students being trained alongside doctors, nurses and others in healthcare disciplines. This involves the undergraduates of all these healthcare disciplines attending many of their lectures together especially in the earlier years of the course. This demonstrably shows that pharmacy is not a science subject in the same way as is Chemistry, Biology etc. If the funding for pharmacy is based on the principle that it is the same as Chemistry and Biology, then that is a mistaken premise. Pharmacy is a healthcare discipline with the vast majority of those who graduate working in healthcare roles and in patient facing situations. The basis of funding for pharmacy training should therefore be changed so that it reflects how Medical and Dental students are trained. 
  3. The Centre for Workforce Intelligence has estimated that if the current system is maintained then there will be many thousands of pharmacy graduates who will not be able to qualify as pharmacists because logistically, they simply will not be able to find the required pre-registration training posts, and even if they could, the funding to sustain these positions would be a major restrictive factor. This not only represents a folly in human terms, it is also a gratuitous waste of tax payers money through the training of a surplus of graduates who will never be able to give back to Society the return in its investment thus bringing the Higher Education system into disrepute.
  4. There are many different constituencies in pharmacy representing lots of differing and sometimes conflicting viewpoints. However, on the issue of capping the pharmacy student numbers, all of the representative bodies within pharmacy have spoken as one voice and they have asked for the pharmacy student numbers to be capped. This position has also been supported by the Department of Health through Health Education England.
  5. There is already an oversupply of pharmacists in the labour market. Where supply exceeds demand, pharmacists are reporting that they fear for their jobs because of how easily they can be replaced if they do not comply with their employer’s demands which may satisfy the commercial agenda but in the health professional’s judgement may not be in the interests of patient safety. This tension between commercialism and patient safety has hitherto been managed well by good sound professional judgement and common sense. The boundaries of this tension are now being challenged by unscrupulous employers taking advantage of the ease with which they can get replacements who will do their bidding. Even where employment law protects the employee, this pressure is placing a strain upon the important role of a pharmacist to ensure that their employer’s commercial agenda does not conflict with the patient safety agenda. The situation as it stands will only get worse. Even if the Minister reverses his current decision, there are a considerable number of undergraduates undergoing the training programme in the system currently who will already flood the market over the next five years.
  6. Unemployment in pharmacy will ultimately make it increasingly difficult to attract high calibre undergraduates to Schools of Pharmacy. This will ultimately damage the patient interest since the complex challenges placed by medicines upon society generally means that pharmacy needs to employ high calibre individuals if it is to meet these challenges.

Please let us know of any reactions and any successes that you may have had locally as this could help us to coordinate our central activities.


Good Luck!

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

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